Paralegal found guilty of defrauding immigrants ‘appears to be on the run’
A professional watchdog revoked the licence of Victor Manuel Castillo Garcia for misappropriating over $1 million, using fake documents and offering immigration services for which he wasn’t licensed.
A Toronto paralegal has been found guilty by the legal profession’s watchdog of defrauding clients of over $1 million and providing immigration services for which he was not licensed.
Victor Manuel Castillo Garcia, who was licensed as a paralegal by the Law Society of Upper Canada in 2010, worked with clients from around the world — including Taiwan, Cuba, El Salvador, Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Peru — for their permanent residence and work permit applications.
The paralegal also failed to provide statements of account for money received from clients and instead, established a company, VIPA Financial, to receive payments and offer “financing” and credit to clients — an apparent conflict in interest, a law society disciplinary tribunal found.
Not only did the clients lose their money, they were unable to retrieve their original documents submitted to the paralegal for their applications, said the tribunal in its decision.
In one case, the paralegal partnered with an agent in Taiwan in 2013 to bring in 180 applicants for jobs in Canada at a price of $5,500 each.
More than $1.1 million was deposited into the man’s account, which was not a trust account as required by the law society, according to the tribunal.
Immigration laws stipulate paralegals can only represent refugees for their asylum claims, and must register with the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council to offer other immigration-related services. Garcia was not a member of the group.
“The paralegal misappropriated over $1 million; relied on fraudulent documents; failed to serve his clients; practiced beyond the scope of his licence; acted in matters where there was, or was likely to be, a conflict of interests; and failed to co-operate with the (Law) Society’s investigations,” tribunal chair Lyle Kanee wrote in the tribunal’s 26-page decision.
“The paralegal appears to be on the run from the law. His whereabouts have been unknown since the summer of 2014 … Nonetheless, it is important to the public’s confidence in the profession that we convey this tribunal’s condemnation for the paralegal’s reprehensible conduct by imposing the most severe sanction.”
According to the regulator, some of the victims have filed complaints with Toronto police, who have been unable to locate Garcia. Police fraud investigators did not immediately respond to the Star’s request for updates on the investigation.
In the Taiwanese case, the complainant, identified as Agent A by the tribunal, said she came to learn the employment contracts and approved labour market assessments provided by Garcia were fake when immigration officials rejected her clients en masse for misrepresentation and submitting bogus documentation.
Authorities also said their employment offers were fraudulent, and banned them from Canada for two years.
Complainant Client B paid Garcia $6,000 in 2013 to obtain a work permit for her fiancé who lived in Cuba and an additional $5,000 for “the final stages” of the work permit application, said the tribunal.
The paralegal said he would meet with the fiancé in Cuba for his medical checks and police clearance, but never showed up and his phone number was no longer in service. By the time the complainant attended the paralegal’s office on St. Clair Ave. W. in 2014, it had already been abandoned, said the tribunal.
The tribunal said there was no record of a work permit application being submitted to the Immigration Department for the woman’s fiancé.
In 2013 another complainant, Client H, paid Garcia $5,500 for a permanent residence application and provided him all of his original documents: work permits, study permits, employment contracts, school transcripts, English language exam, pictures, birth certificates and pay stubs.
The complainant emailed the paralegal repeatedly for updates on the application, with no response.
“Thank you so much for running away. Can I at least get my papers because I need my papers . . . the original documents,” Client H wrote to Garcia on WhatsApp after filing a complaint with the law society and Toronto police.
In response, the paralegal said he had been sick and working from home but promised he would give the client an update later. Client H never got his documents back.
Toronto immigration lawyer Sergio Karas, who is not involved in the case, said he was not surprised by the complaints but was shocked by the hefty fees the paralegal charged.
“The amount of fees he was charging was incredibly high, over and above what lawyers would charge for the same kind of work,” Karas said.
“This case really highlights the need for Ottawa to revisit the issue over who can practise immigration law in this country.”
Earlier this year, a government committee completed a study of the immigration consulting industry and recommended Ottawa take over the policing of the profession. The report is under review by Parliament.
In Garcia’s absence, the tribunal revoked the paralegal’s licence and ordered him to repay the law society compensation fund $33,680 and to pay costs of $15,555.
With Garcia missing, the tribunal acknowledged its decision “likely would have little impact on him.”